Great White Egret
Ardea alba (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Pelecaniformes > Ardeidae
A bird of wetland and marsh, the Great White Egret is one of a small group of Continental heron species that have expanded their breeding ranges northwards and joined our avifauna.
Formerly a very rare bird in Britain & Ireland, the Great White Egret can now be seen throughout the year, often in association with other herons, when its long, sinuous neck, long legs and large size can be fully appreciated as it hunts its aquatic food.
Wetland Bird Survey data show the meteoric rise in Great White Egret numbers since it began colonising in around 2010. It is also monitored by the BTO Heronries Census and BirdTrack.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Great White Egret
Great White Egret identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Great White Egret.
25 years ago the sighting of any White Heron in the UK would have been greeted with excitement. While Little Egret is now relatively common, it can sometimes be confused at distance with a much rarer visitor - Great White Egret. This video also helps separate GW Egret from 'white' or leucistic Grey Herons.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Great White Egret, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
|UK Birds of Conservation Concern||Amber listed|
|Species of European Conservation Concern||Least Concern|
|IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (global)||Least Concern|
|Schedule 1 license required (to disturb)||No|
|Birds Directive Annex 1||No|
The recent trend for Great White Egret suggests it has now successfully colonised the UK, with the numbers of breeding pairs and sites both increasing rapidly since the species first bred in 2012 (Anderson et al. 2013). A total of 16–24 pairs bred in 2019 (Eaton et al. 2021) and breeding numbers are expected to increase further in the coming years.
|UK winter population||+2367% increase (2010/11 to 2020/21)|
Like the other two egret species, Great White Egrets are now recorded widely in Britain throughout the year. During the Atlas breeding period 134 10-km squares in Britain and 12 in Ireland were recorded as occupied by non-breeding birds. Since then, breeding has been confirmed at a number of locations.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||2|
|% occupied in breeding season||0.07|
|No. occupied in winter||180|
|% occupied in winter||6|
European Distribution Map
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+7850%|
Great White Egrets are more likely to be seen in winter than at other times of year, but can now be seen year-round at many southern locations.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.
Lifecycle and body size information about Great White Egret, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
Sample sizes are too small to report Productivity and Nesting statistics for this species.
Sample sizes are too small to report Biometrics for this species.
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: HW | 5-letter code: GRWEG | Euring: 1210|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Great White Egret from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
Like other egret species, the expansion of Great White Egret into the UK has followed increases on the continent and an expansion north and west across Europe. The key drivers behind this expansion are unclear, but contributing factors may include increases and improvements to habitat, reduced persecution and improved legal protection and climate change (?awicki 2014).
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